County-Size Licenses May Create Opportunities for Rural Providers

Earlier this week, the FCC released a Public Notice which provides details and a timeline for the upcoming Auction 105 for wireless spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. The licenses available in this auction, known as Priority Access Licenses (PALs), are well suited for fixed wireless applications and, according to the FCC, will be “an essential part of next generation wireless network deployments, including 5G.”  This “forward” auction is designed to award the highest bidders wireless licenses and should not be confused with the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) “reverse” auction in which the lowest bidders will receive universal service support for the deployment of broadband.

Auction 105’s application window to file the “short-form” to participate in the auction opens at Noon EDT on March 26 and closes on April 9 at 6 p.m. EDT. Auction 105 will license PALs at the county level, which is significantly smaller than previous wireless auctions. Seven licenses will be available in each county shown on the FCC’s list with each license containing 10 MHz of spectrum. In total, the auction will make available 22,631 PALs with 10-year renewable licenses.

Given the small geographic size of the licenses and the large number of licenses available, Auction 105 presents an attractive opportunity specifically for rural providers. The opening bids for many of the PALs in rural areas appear to be less than $10,000, with many as low as $1,000. Regardless of how high the bidding may go above the opening bid, applicants that qualify for the rural service provider or small business bidding credits will receive discounts on their winning bids. In addition, no licensee can hold more than four 10 MHz blocks in one county, which will provide opportunities to obtain spectrum in a county at an affordable price even if a larger carrier also bids for spectrum in that area.

If you are interested in participating in this auction, you should familiarize yourself with the unique characteristics of the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS), including the dynamic spectrum sharing which will take place utilizing a Spectrum Access System (SAS). JSI has developed a summary presentation to explain these and other features of the PAL. If you would like a copy of our summary, have any questions about the auction, or would like our assistance with preparing and filing the short form, please contact John Kuykendall, Chresanthe Staurulakis, or Janee Devis at 301-459-7590.